The Rise of Light Beer and Beer Industry Changes

Bud Light, a single brand of beer holds command of 15.4% of the entire US domestic beer market. And although that isn’t as dominant as Budweiser at the peak of its popularity. Bud Light is an absolutely big brand despite the fact that we live in the Golden Age of craft beer. But this dominance is a little strange.

Products that are normally marketed ad diet are usually niche products in other industries. Not the dominant players. Light beer is an absolute phenomenon here in the US. Three out of four top-selling brands here in the US are light beers. And those 3 brands represent more than a quarter of the beer market.

In the meantime, we have some beer recommendations so check our 6 Beers you Should & Shouldn’t Drink.

A bottle of Bud Light, Coors Light, Keystone Light and Miller Lite representing American light beers on  a white background.
Credit: https://beerrecipes.org/BJCP-2015-Style/1/1a-american-light-lager.html

The original light beer recipe

If you looked at light beer marketing today you may have seen Miller referred to its Miller Light brand as original light beer. While Miller Lite is certainly the earliest popular light beer brand it’s a little misleading.

The true original light beer was developed in 1967 by Dr. Joseph Owades a biochemist at Rheingold Brewing Company. He formulated that beer with reduced carbohydrates and calories by removing starch from its original recipe.

Starches are large molecules used by cells to store energies for later. Plants make glucose, sugar molecule during photosynthesis but they don’t need all of the energy provided by that sugar right away. Plant cells fuse a few of these sugar molecules together into starch. the ones that have a lot of starches like barley are great for making beer with. boiling all those starch molecules provides a ton of sugar for the yeast to ferment into alcohol and CO2.

Not all starches can be eaten by yeast. And those leftover molecules make it into the final beer. Normally these starches and carbohydrates add a nice flavor and body to the beer. they also add extra calories. That’s why Dr. Owades was targeting starches in beer when he was trying to create a diet beer product.

Launching of first light beers

An old photograph of a can, bottle and a glass of Meister Brau Lite beer.
Credit: https://www.chicagotribune.com/dining/ct-rosenthal-miller-lite-beer-0301-biz-20150228-column.html

It was a pretty brilliant thing in the late 60s. Diet foods were just starting to take off and over the next few decades, they would involve a huge industry in the US. The first light beer was dubbed Gablingers. Rheingold didn’t know how to market this beer. Shortly after their diet beer was introduced the whole company folded.

So Dr. Owades took his recipe to another brewery. Chicago-based Meister Brau. They relaunched the beer as The Meister Brau Lite which did have some minor success. This time Miller swooped in and bought 3 of Meister Brau brands including Meister Brau Lite. Miller did reformulate the beer a bit. So while they can’t take credit for inventing the first light beer they definitely have credit for inventing an entire marketing segment for it.

Light beer brands marketing strategies

Miller teamed up with a New York ad agency and the two companies worked on a very carefully coordinated launch of Miller Lite to ensure the light beer was done right this time. The ad agency did their research and they had found the fundamental flaw in how others have marketed light beer.

Health-conscious consumers weren’t looking for a diet beer. They were staying away from beer in general. So marketing to them as the precious companies did was not going to work no matter how hard they tried. But one group did respond well to the idea of diet beer. And it was one group that no one really expected. Sports watching couch potatoes and barflies.

No one expected that these heavy beer consumers wanted anything new out of their beer. It’s these consumers that stood to gain the most from having a light beer option. If you could cut 40% of the calories from something you drink several times a week or even daily that’s a good proposition for you.

Soon every nationally recognized brand had some sort of corresponding light version of their beer. Finally in 1982 Budweiser introduced its third light beer. And this beer would come to dominate the market over the next few decades. Bud Light began with the standard sports space marketing but quickly differentiated itself using humor and advertising.

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